Migrant Smuggling Data and Research

A Global Review of the Emerging Evidence Base

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The report shows that important research has been undertaken on the transnational crime aspects of migrant smuggling, including on routes, smuggling organizations (such as criminal networking and facilitation), smuggler profiles and fees/payment. Likewise, there is an emerging academic literature on migrant smuggling, particularly the economic and social processes involved in smuggling, which has largely been based on small-scale qualitative research, mostly undertaken by early career researchers. Contributions from private research companies, as well as investigative journalists, have provided useful insights in some regions, helping to shed light on smuggling practices. There remains, however, sizeable gaps in migration policy research and data, particularly in relation to migration patterns and processes linked to migrant smuggling, including its impact on migrants (particularly vulnerability, abuse and exploitation), as well as its impact on irregular migration flows (such as increasing scale, diversity and changes in geography). Addressing these systemic and regional gaps in data and research would help deepen understanding of the smuggling phenomenon, and provide further insights into how responses can be formulated that better protect migrants while enhancing States’ abilities to manage orderly migration.



South Asia

The South Asian region – comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – is a hub of irregular and regular migration flows. Widespread news coverage of Indian and Nepalese migrants illegally entering the United States through Guatemala and Mexico (Irfan, 2012; Wells, 2013), and Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants roaming in Kuala Lumpur to make their way to Australia for seeking asylum (ABC, 2015) are some of the examples of what irregular migration looks like in the region. While all forms of irregular migration may not involve smuggling, most cases of irregular migration from and to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are undertaken with the assistance of migrant smugglers (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2015). The dynamics of irregular migration in the region is largely rooted in political conflicts, ethnic violence, economic disparities, deep poverty and food insecurity. Nevertheless, it also reflects the aspirations of relatively educated and wealthy individuals and families to settle in “western” developed countries.


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